Panel 10: Rising Seas, Refugees, Cities



Panel 10: Rising Seas, Refugees, Cities

Delineating Climate Change Planning in Urban Governance: An Analysis of Where and How Vulnerabilities Get Addressed

Alison Kenner and Kerri Yandrich, Drexel University & State of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

This talk assesses how climate change planning (CCP) attends to existing political capabilities and public health vulnerabilities. The authors will discuss a framework, based on existing climate justice and “health in all policies” scholarship, that can be used to steer and assess CCP at the city-level (more).

Rising Sea Levels and Low Lying Islands in 2050

Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa

This talk presents what the situation of low-lying island states is projected to be by 2050. It will outline the key issues related to rising sea levels, which include not only flooding of housing but also the salination of limited drinking water and of agricultural lands making life on remote islands increasingly unsustainable, and the solutions being put forward to them by Pacific Islanders (more).

Not to be Written, but absorbed; Oceanic Futures in 2050

Melody Jue, University of California, Santa Barbara

Moving beyond the medial paradigm of writing, this talk proposes a new way to tell the narrative of the state of oceans in 2050. It will incorporate the speaker’s own underwater footage of local kelp forests and the coastal environment in this talk, in order to persuasively show how the ocean changes the medial paradigm from writing to ‘absorption’ through which we imagine and talk about the future in 2050 (more).

Modeling Environmental Benefits on Health in a More Urbanized World

Rick Thomas, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

This talk explores the role urban greenspace can play in improving health. It explains the necessity of a way to model the benefits these spaces can provide in order to make informed decisions on the best type, quantity, and distribution parks in cities. This presentation will walk through why such a model is necessary, what it would look like and what it would accomplish (more).

Q & A

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23 replies
  1. Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

    Hi Alison and Kerri, thank you for your presentation and the important work you two have done! The impact of climate change on public health is a subject I find fascinating and it was very informative seeing how many cities are implementing it into planning decisions.

    I was hoping you could spend a little more time talking about the next steps of this work. Would an analysis of all these different plans be able to be synthesized in such a way to help cities who currently lack such a plan design one? I’m wondering how this can be a resource for cities. Also out of curiosity, throughout your research did you discern any broad trends that might help explain why certain cities had adaptation plans versus mitigation versus none (ie the economy/demographics/political preferences of the region)? I’d be interested to learn more about this if possible. Thanks again!

  2. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Hi all, Thanks so much for checking out this panel on Rising Seas, Refugees and Cities. I am looking forward to listening to the other papers on this panel. My paper grapples with the impacts of rising sea levels on low lying islands state in three distinct parts of the vast Pacific Ocean (“moanu nui” or vast ocean in Hawaiian). It is part of a new book project: Atlas of Remote Islands and Rising Sea Levels. I am curious any insight or information panel “attendees” have on solutions to rising sea levels being put forward by islands, be they put forward at the international, governmental or grass roots level. Thank you again for attending. And looking forward to the discussion and exchanges.

    • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Hi Christina, I enjoyed listening to your talk! I’ve been studying effects of climate change for a number of years in my courses, but it always hits home the most when you look at specific examples–as you did–rather than generic projections. I unfortunately don’t have novel solutions to suggest, but your talk sparked a few questions. First off, what is your impression as to the impact AOSIS and similar groups advocating for small island nations had in regards to the recent climate deals, both at Paris and the subsequent months? Do you think they changed the narrative in such a way that got us to the agreement in the first place? Also I am very curious to hear how optimistic you are personally in regards to the plights these nations are facing. From what you have seen so far in studies, is there a good case for being optimistic?

      • Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

        Hi Rick, Thanks so much for your question. I think the important work of AOSIS and of the Least Developed Countries (or LCDs) at the UN climate talk or any other country groups, ALBA, one could go down the list, is that when one is AT the UN climate negotiations and listens to what is sd. by individual nations or nation clusters, one has a very real visceral sense, as I mentioned in my talk, that of the 193 countries in the UN, literally **most** are experiencing the impacts of climate change: in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Pacific, in Southeast Asia, etc. etc. So when the talks take place, countless nations narrate the impacts of climate change on their nations at that moment. Hearing these stories differs starkly from the media’s narratives, which, as I mentioned, fixate on the US-China standoff, or on the EU. I do think they helped to change the narrative. But power is often reluctant to concede what it has: be that in terms power structured by money/capitalism, gender/patriarchy, race/racism, etc. etc. I think, following Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and others, that our only option is to be optimistic but not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but rather in a way that acknowledges the work of Pacific Islanders or peoples elsewhere, who are impacted, to address the issue; and that takes our cues from them, in terms of *hearing* their needs, and that works to show solidarity by stepping up to support them and help to address them. Here is the link for one article I wrote a number of years ago, which cites and links to Anjali Appaduria’s incredible speech, “Get It Done!” at the end:

        In short, it is nothing short of our duty to help where we can to write wrongs. If we are not helping in these ways, our silence and inaction is part of the problem.

        • Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

          In short, it is nothing short of our duty to help where we can to right wrongs. If we are not helping in these ways, our silence and inaction is part of the problem.

  3. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Dear Professor Alison Kenner and Kerri Yandrich, Thanks for your very informative and rich presentation. I appreciate very much the focus on intersectoral approaches, as well as the consideration of place-specific analyses. I was just discussing the importance of this approach with UHM director of Environmental Studies yesterday. One thing that might be good to highlight for viewers / listeners is that the percentage of the population in cities or along coastlines (could not easily find figures for coastal cities): a whopping 80% of the U.S. population lives in cities. And about 40% of the U.S. population lives along the coastlines. (Surprising given that vast continent.) Highlights how intensely what you are working on is needed given how many will be impacted. I would also love to hear a bit more in response to Rick Thomas’ good questions above from two days ago. Thanks so much again for your presentation and work! And looking forward to hearing more.

  4. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Dear Professor Melody Yue, I really enjoyed your presentation and the visuals of kelp and the sounds of the ocean. So nice to dive with you among the kelp! And I really appreciate the very incredible theoretical intervention made by not thinking about what will happen *to* kelp by 2050 but how think and even breathe with kelp. I learned so much about the role of kelp from your talk. But I also loved the idea of “The Politics of Absorption” and how you relate it to the geologic layers or inscription upon the earth and notions of legibility; how you track the *absence* of inscription as a result of ocean acidification; and uncoil or unweave the very metaphor but also process of writing vs. absorbing. Fascinating. Still mulling over the implications of the suggested shift. Very rich talk. Thank you!

    • Melody Jue, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

      Hi Christina, thank you for your kind comments! 🙂 Your talk makes me wonder about Hawaii’s specificity as a context for thinking about absorption ecologies as well, and what seaweeds/organisms might be especially compelling.

  5. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Dear Rick Thomas, kindest thanks for your fascinating presentation about how green spaces in urban environments can improve emotional and psychological well-being. Very interesting, too, to see how the variables in the calculations need to work in order to ascertain precise figures for how green spaces – a variable category – do improve health. I learned a lot from your talk and am curious to hear a bit more about how this fits in with your larger current research projects. Additionally, I am curious to hear more about how much cities take this factor into account right now. Where does this piece of the puzzle — also requiriing intersectoral analyses, as our co-panelists Alison Kenner and Kerri Yandrich had also argued — fit in with city planning, design and implementation. And then, to add one more piece to the puzzle, could the redesign intended to consider health three green spaces if pointed to the need for redesign also factor in climate change right away? That is, no use establishing a park along a shoreline that will soon be under water. Or … wait! But separate issue … could an argument for green spaces be made that argues for them b/c they absorb water. That is, unlike concrete, they allow water absorption, which will become increasingly important whether along a shoreline or more inland and soaked due to increasingly erratic and heavy rainfall? Thanks so much again for your great paper!

    • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Thanks for your questions! From my understanding, cities are currently promoting urban greenery primarily more tangible benefits such as trees to reduce the ‘heat island’ phenomenon and improve air quality, or ways to foster physical activity for example. Although the science is definitely growing and people intuitively understand that natural spaces are good for our mental well-being, I don’t recall having come across any city plans that explicitly use this evidence to push for more greenery.

      As to your shoreline point I think you are absolutely correct and that areas such as these are much better suited for these natural buffers rather than development. It is tricky though. A main issue cities face in regards to creating these buffer spaces is that a lot of land near shorelines, for example, is private property that people want to develop because of its attractive location. So while even though we now know that these areas are much better off not developed, it is not as simple as converting it, and this is because of how we distributed property rights in the past. Now, local governments have the authority under what is called Police Power to alter or take private property if it is for the public well-being–which something like storm protection would certainly count as. However this can be an expensive and litigious act for cities, for obvious reasons. I am actually learning a lot about this in my current Principles of Environmental Planning course and certainly find it fascinating.

      • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

        Hi, Rick and Christina-

        This topic is much closer to my research focus (on human interaction with urban environments) than my presentation (on a proposed class) in this conference is, so allow me to interject here: I agree with Rick that it’s unusual, maybe unprecedented, for planning documents to take the health (including mental, emotional, and social) benefits of exposure to nature into account. You rapidly get into a tangle of perceptions and overlapping impacts of urban trees and other vegetation, such as perceptions of care of an area, crime deterrence (or the appearance of it), property values, and concerns about urban wildlife and disease vectors (ticks, mosquitoes). Fortunately, plans and ordinances that directly affect what happens to a given acre tend to be much more concerned with the “what” than the “why,” so the lack of familiarity with the research on benefits of nature might not matter so much. It’s frustrating, though, because this literature goes back a few decades – just can’t seem to break into wider society. Sustainability- and health-related building and development standards like LEED, LEED-ND, SITES, and to some extent, the WELL building standard might help with this. There also have been a batch of recent popular press articles about health benefits from nature – not sure if that marks an uptick in coverage in publications people actually read (not journals) or if I’ve just started to notice these.

  6. Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

    Hi, Christina-
    After watching your talk, I’m quite interested in your current book project. When do you anticipate its publication? (Let me note that as a book author myself, I understand that can be an emotionally charged question!) If you have any sort of list of people to notify when it comes out, I’d like to be added to that list, or perhaps connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter would be the way to stay tuned…?

    • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

      As a PS: I should have also asked if this will be a scholarly book or a popular non-fiction one, or some other category.

      • Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

        Dear Susan, Kindest thanks for your engagement with our panel and its talks. Much appreciated. I just started the book project this summer. It is one of two books I am starting. But I also just finished two manuscripts, am finishing three edited volumes and a special issue of a journal, numerous articles (both academic and non-academic). Given the pace of academic publishing, it might be a minute. The best way to find out about it is through my page at
        (I have a low profile – footprint?- on social media: e.g. FB, twitter, LinkedIn.) The book will be a crossover book drawing on academic research but crossover in tone and writing style. Thanks so much for your interest!

        • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

          Very ambitious writing schedule! I wish you all success with it. I’ll keep an eye out for the new book. It does seem like a very good candidate for a crossover book. Definitely important subject matter to get out there in a format that more people will read, but of course, it’s always a challenge to get less scholarly books to count for promotion and tenure.

  7. Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

    Hi, Rick-

    As you may have read in my comment above, I’m an environment-behavior researcher, too, a fact well-hidden by my presentation in Panel 13. My main focus is on urban environments during economic transformation (like transition to clean energy and immigration), but I’ve published on benefits of nature as well (and have another article in review at the moment, as it happens). I’m very interested in the impact of the spontaneous (weedy) urban vegetation characteristic of postindustrial cities in the eastern US.

    Your research is quite interesting and would indeed be a really valuable addition. It’s difficult to break ecosystem services down to the scale of a city lot or block, so anything you could provide within that gap would be a real contribution. Great job! If you have not run across EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association,, I highly recommend it as a conference to attend and at which to present your work.

    • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for your message! I’m very interested in your research field and am looking forward to exploring some of your work in more depth.

      Listening to your talk made me curious if there have been longitudinal studies looking at how a city’s shift from automotive means of transportation to more walking could be traced back to how storefronts changed over that time period? I don’t know how good of records there are for the presence and type of storefronts in a city, but I would be very curious if so. I feel like such an endeavor may run into similar issues as what I discussed of getting down to such fine scale, but as you said that is what makes the change possible in the first place. Also do you happen to know of any master plans for cities that do a good job of addressing (or even acknowledging) the role of storefronts in walkability and are taking steps to improve the city’s design as a result? I’d be interested in taking a look if so.

      • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

        No longitudinal studies come to mind, but I’m not really a walkability researcher – I chose the storefronts topic in response to input from the community collaborators I met with (kind of a loose focus group). Off the cuff, I’d say that it’d be tough to find causative studies linking transportation mode and change in retail because so many other factors (variables) would be in play at the same time. You couldn’t control for much – one of the difficulties of studying real people in real places. You might have the most luck in planning studies that focus on economic analysis, without an overt spatial component. There are probably some connected with before/after constructing freeway bypasses around city cores.

        Re: city plans: I’d look at Portland, OR. They have a catchy phrase for it – something like “the 20 minute neighborhood” – that encapsulates the goal of having all city neighborhoods contain life’s necessities within a 20 minute (or whatever) walk. It’s likely that the documents for that cite something else, which could point you toward what you want.
        My second guess would be to look at Congress for New Urbanism’s resources – might be something in there, although they seem more concerned with the details of residential development than with land use at the neighborhood scale.

  8. Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

    To all Panel 10 speakers:
    Having now watched all of your presentations, I’m struck with a theme that I see tying all of them together: the visibility of climate change impacts to the more vulnerable/invisibility of those impacts to others who are more protected and/or empowered. This in/visibility also depends on geographic location – whether a person is on a Pacific island or in a green space-poor city, for example. Since climate change is a global issue, this lack of universal visibility is a problem, because people who can’t see the problem or who aren’t affected by it (yet) are less motivated to change their behavior. Rick’s presentation, to me, tackles this kind of issue of different scales and levels of visibility through making the value of ecosystem services more readily understood at the scale of an urban lot. Do any of you have similar ideas about how to make those of us who are more insulated (by wealth, privilege, geographic location, or any combination) feel or absorb (to use Melody’s evocative term) the current cataclysm of the oceans and low-lying island nations?

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and well done session,

    • Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

      Dear Susan,

      Thanks *so* much for your engagement with our panel. I really enjoyed your presentation as well! Yes, I think visibility is key! I often use the analogy of Africa for the Pacific: that is, both are places not often enough in the media, having experienced colonization; still being exploited in various ways (military, extractivism); lacking funding and support, infrastructure, etc. etc. It *is* very much an issue of wealth and privilege, that is, of global inequality, of “developed” vs. “developing” nations. So it is an economic issue. It is a political issue. It is a visibility issue.

      In my work as an environmental journalist, I work to address this issue, of environmental justice and social justice, by making the already ongoing impacts of climate change experienced by, uhm, most of the world, visible. That is, by talking and writing MOSTLY about them. Of course, my editors do not always run these stories, preferring US-China standoff articles. (I am talking progressive and left of center publications!) So there is a media issue. Attending the annual UN climate conferences, I am always struck by the visceral and unavoidable contrast between the actual conference and that when you hear representatives from 196 nations (or nation groups, e.g. AOSIS, EU, LCDs) stand up to speak one by one, for days, most of what you hear with regard to climate change is “already ongoing and impacting” – day in and day out. So to report it and make this visible helps.

      But I think even in the US, the impacts are already ongoing! Bloomberg just ran an article this past week about how here, too, it is a race / class issue in terms of what does and does not get report:

      So the issue is also about shifting our perceptions of the temporal and spatial framework of climate change.
      It is *already* going on. And is impacting everwhere.

      About how to make those more insulated feel the impacts already going elsewhere? I think the answer lies in your very formulation of the question. 🙂 I would encourage people to become less insulated. If one is privileged, engage those less privileged! Ask questions. And listen. Take action. To support. For starters, some of my thoughts.

      Thank *you* for such a careful listen, read, reflection and engagement! Very much appreciated!

      Best wishes, Tina

      • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

        I thought I had run out of time to come back to Tina’s comments, but since the conference is now extended, here goes:

        It’s rare to hear the kind of problems – climate change impacts – you mention actually called “climate change” impacts in mainstream media, so to the average person, there is no linkage between any given problem and the really big problem we are all talking about here. For example, I’ve recently started wondering just how long the Weather Channel personalities are going to keep managing to *not* say “climate change” as they comment on month after month of “hottest ever on record,” to say nothing of droughts and fires. Some places, like Louisiana in the article you (Tina) sent me, there are even specific prohibitions on the term “climate change.” For the rest of us in everyday conversation, it’s a politically charged term, sure to court argument. There’s also the conflict between the language and customs of science and the way we speak in real life, so that the legitimate hesitation to label one summer’s drought or one hurricane an effect of climate change rather than normal variation is interpreted as real doubt about the reality of the warming planet. I think this reticence lets real, current, nearby climate change impacts hide in plain sight.

        After the past few days, I cannot help but also note that the acceptance of the idea that there are different sets of facts, no shared indisputable reality, for people on opposite sides of the political spectrum is incredibly destructive. I’m sure others have said this better elsewhere, but it allows easy dismissal of any fact and the politicization of problems and crises that we all share. This plays out in all kinds of issues, but climate change impacts and any kind of environmental justice issue are definitely among them. I have no answers about this.

        With that, I’ll let someone else chime in.

  9. EGromel says:

    Dr. Jue,

    Great presentation and wonderful editing. I could learn something from this. I also think that you inclusion of personal scuba-diving video may have helped to persuade me of the potential behind the term “absorption” a bit more. In your discussion of terrestrial versus oceanic metaphors, I was reminded of the epigraph written on the tombstone of John Keats: “Here lies one whose name was writ on water.” The irony in this statement, I think, is indicative of a sort of fluidity that may already exist in the consciousness of certain cultural projects – although I do agree with you that a terrestrial bias is present in a greater social consciousness nonetheless. But is it possible that the cultural problem is just as much in terms of a lack of fluidity between a signifier (e.g. “terrestrial”) and signified (“static/unchanging”) of materiality as it is between a given material metaphor as an image of the future? I ask this because the irony of Keats’ epigraph seems to suggest this possibility in its being written on hard stone whilst suggesting (in both its form and content) a fluidity that is at the level of not only content, but form (is Keats’ “name” being “writ’ on water” referring to the gravestone? or something else? Is it a symbolic “writing?” What is writing anyway?).

    Also, In defense of geologists – many of them, while they would probably agree with your pointing to a terrestrial bias, might argue that this same bias could also be stemming from a blatant misunderstanding of geology, since geology, in studying the deep history of the planet, is at least as much concerned with the fluid forces which operate beneath the Earth’s surface (e.g. magma) as it is with the signs of those changes which are embedded in certain parts of the crust in recent or contemporary history.

    Great video and topic.
    Evan Gromel

  10. Melody Jue, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

    Hi Evan, thanks for your thoughts! It strikes me that the Keats quote pairs well with something from Rachel Carson, where she talks about how the history of the ocean is recorded/”written” on the sea floor. Of course the ocean water has a kind of filtering effect too–something left over after a name is written in water. And you’re right about the misunderstanding of geology; Doreen Massey is someone who would back that up 🙂

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